One of the notable aspects of climate change that has been observed is the further toward the poles one looks, the more pronounced global warming’s impact becomes. While the tropics have warmed somewhat, average temperatures in the Artic have soared: the North Pole was a full degree warmer than Seattle on Dec 30 2015, and while the contiguous U.S. broke a 3.3ºF (1.83ºC) above-average heat record for June of this year, Alaska saw a temperature record of nearly three times that level for the same month, at 9ºF (5.0ºC) above average.
This marked change has made an impact on the people that live in these regions, such as the Inuit, altering the way they would traditionally gather and hunt for food, and the quality of that food. In a recent book titled: The Caribou Taste Different Now: Inuit Elders Observe Climate Change; published by the Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, Canada, Inuit elders describe the changes they’ve experienced happening to the landscape, flora, and fauna over the years.
Most notably, they report that the climate has become both warmer and drier over the years. This has resulted in a reduction in the level and number of creeks flowing across the landscape, and has affected the growth of local plants and lichens.
“The blueberries are not like long ago; we used to get really big blueberries,” observes elder Laura Kohohtak, from Kugluktuk. “Now we don’t get very much rain and we just get small little blueberries. The taste is different. They are not as sweet.”
Between these changes to local plants and longer growing seasons, the growth and migration of caribou herds are also affected. “They start to arrive now [in July] instead of May, two months late. They go out to the land one month early… I hope they stay here a bit longer [this year] so we can catch the caribou and freeze it and use it for the winter,” explains Lukasi Nappaaluk, an elder from Kangiqsujuaq.
This change in their migration pattern appears to have impacted the caribou’s diet, eating more berries and trees that they find as they stay longer on the coast, as opposed to their usual diet of lichens found when they migrate farther inland. This, in turn, has lowered the animals’ fat content, and affected the quality of their bone marrow.
“When they’re in the country, way inland, they eat lichen, but these years they go more on the beach and they’re eating the trees here,” explains elder Edward Flowers. “And when you eat [caribou meat] the taste is like the trees here.
“When they were up in the country eating lichen they were more healthy to eat.”